By Jake Thompson and Justin Whitaker
— County schools are gearing up for the winter sports season and the girls’ basketball teams are ready to take the court this week.
After finishing 6-15 in his first year as the Avon head coach, David Cupp returns with the same renewed energy and drive to put the Orioles basketball program back on track as he displayed last season. Cupp has set his expectations and taken stock of the situation.
“Our only goal is to be a better team and better individual players on our last day than we are on our first day,” he said. “We are so young and inexperienced, that to put goals that have to do with wins and losses would be unfair to the girls. I have never believed that successes and failures are measured by wins and losses, especially at the high school level.”
Three varsity players return with experience from last year for the Orioles.
Senior Megan Price is Avon’s deep threat on offense and a stalwart on defense, but is currently out with an injury to begin the season. Junior Rachel Griffin returns as Avon’s leading scorer, rebounder, assist and steals leader from last season. Sophomore Brooke Peters started to catch fire late last year and could be a breakout player for the Orioles.
“(They) will all be leaders for our basketball team because of their experience in playing at the varsity level,” Cupp said.
Griffin and Peters joined the team late because of the state championship volleyball run and bring that same winning attitude to the Orioles.
“I believe that success breeds success, and the experiences that the volleyball girls are having will carry over into our season,” Cupp said. “Coach (Scott) McQueen has high expectations for his players, and demands excellence from the girls every single day, so they will expect nothing other than that once they get to me.”
Cupp is trying to grow the Avon program and admits it is “still in the infancy of re-building,” and because of other sports basically becoming year round in terms of participation “every coach pretty much has to recruit in their own building just to field teams.”
To that end, 17 of the 27 girls on Avon’s team are freshman.
“I am blessed to have a freshman class with so many players who want to play basketball first, and our future is being built with them,” Cupp said.
Also contributing this season for the Orioles will be junior Shelby Connors and sophomores Paige Batalis and Megan Hunt. Cupp also expects freshmen Hannah Eiler, Taylor Speckman and Shelle Daniels to see varsity time this season.
Like most squads in all sports, playing better competition only serves to improve and hone skills needed to compete at the level the team is ascending towards.
“Our success will be determined at the journey this season takes us on,” Cupp said “Our team will be filled with my kids playing maybe the toughest schedule in the state of Indiana this year. We don't get a break any night, and I don't want a break. I want my kids to be severely challenged every single night. This is the only way that they will see what it takes to compete at an elite level.”
After a 15-6 record last season that led the Cadets to their second consecutive West Central Conference title, Cascade coach Don Helmick knows the type of competition his squad will see all season.
“We have had two straight 15 win seasons and won back-to-back conferences,” Helmick said. “That has put a bulls eye on us in conference as teams know we lost a lot last year due to graduation. The kids we have know how to win, they just have to decide if they want to put in the time the past groups have had to maintain the winning ways.”
Back for the Cadets from last season with varsity experience and to lead are Brandyce Sallee and Sydney Stein and both were all-conference players in the WCC last year. Sallee averaged 13 ppg and Stein recorded 12. Sallee also hit the 500 point mark for her career at Cascade and made the Cadets’ top 12 in all-time scoring.
“Brandyce will be a captain for us this year and she is just the glue that keeps us together,” Helmick said. “Katy Copsey and Brandyce are the lone returning seniors. Stein is a junior that we will look to for leadership and scoring.”
Helmick also pointed to sophomore Katie Smith and freshmen Katy Bell as two up and coming players that could contribute for the Cadets. Smith will be relied upon for rebounding and defense.
“Our success will depend on how well we come together as a team and if we can defend anyone,” Helmick said. “We have a team quote this year, ‘plus two and finish.’ We want to go two steps farther than we think we can and finish. We want to strive for more than being average.”
After reviving the girls’ basketball team the past two seasons from a four-year layoff, the Bethesda Christian girls’ team has a new coach.
Wayne Leichty takes over the reigns of the Patriots’ squad and looks to continue building the program.
“As we continue to rebuild, we want to grow as a team that plays solid, fundamental basketball,” he said. “Our goal is to play for the team, as a team. We are still learning the game of basketball as we rebuild.”
Bethesda improved to 8-11 last season after a 3-12 outing when the school brought back the program the year before.
Seniors Cassie Mitchell, Kendra Okey and Carly Baker return to help the Patriots achieve their goals this season.
“Mitchell is just an all-out hustle player who plays the game hard and knows no other way to play,” Leichty said. “Okey is a 5-foot-6 guard who averaged over 5.5 rebounds per game, indicating her toughness to go against the bigger players. Baker will be invaluable inside as a 5-foot-10 center. We are looking to our three seniors who have valuable experience and we are looking for their contributions to the success of our season.”
Lydia Trapp and Casey Patterson return from last year and should see significant minutes for the Patriots.
“Both are sophomores and both are solid players who are always hustling and
have a great attitude in learning the game,” Leichty said.
Leichty pointed to junior Emily Hayden and the team’s three freshmen to possibly have breakout seasons this year.
Determining the course of the Patriots’ season is simple according to Leichty.
“Our success will depend on our mental toughness,” he said. “I have been challenging the girls to not allow one mistake to become two mistakes. We need to be mentally tough to recover quickly and not take ourselves out of the game because we focused on our mistake.”
And what will also help Bethesda climb upward towards a sectional championship?
“Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals,” Leichty said. “We are continuing to rebuild and we are focused on the fundamentals of basketball. It has to start with there and build up. The girls are doing a great job at staying focused on these fundamentals doing them day after day so they become second nature.”
Plainfield finished out last season with a 16-6 record and while many teams would look to reload, the Quakers are in the position of rebuilding.
“We have a little different journey this year than we’ve had in the last few seasons,” Plainfield coach Curt Benge said. “We return one starter. Our team is going to evolve and grow as the season goes on. We may have to change some of the things we do.”
Benge said the Quakers averaged nearly 58 points per game last season, but graduated all but 10.5 points of that production.
“I don’t think we have anyone coming back that averaged over three points per game,” he said. “It will be interesting, but I do think we have kids that are good shooters.”
Seniors Mackenzie Jeffries, Deann Cowell, Betsy Gillenwater and Katie Robertson should lead the Quakers. Robertson, a transfer from Tri-West that sat out last season, may sign with Division II Tiffin University in Ohio according to Benge.
“Robertson will make a big difference for us,” Benge said.
Sophia Wilson was a back-up guard last season who Benge said he “hopes she can step in for us” along with Mackenzie Reeder.
“Those six, right out of the box, are the nucleus of our returning players,” Benge said.
Plainfield also has a big contingent of underclassmen looking for playing time that include junior Heidi Clossin, freshman Kendall Spears, and Ben Davis transfer Maddie O’Day.
“It’s hard to pick somebody that is going to have a break out year because you may neglect someone else,” Benge said.
One thing Benge pointed to as a strength of this Quakers team is their accurate long-range shooting.
“We have better perimeter shooting than we’ve had across the board,” he said. “I have five or six kids I would trust to go out and shoot the three. The problem is can we develop some of the other stuff to go along with it.”
Plainfield’s season may be a work in progress throughout the year, but like Benge alluded to, as long as they are playing good basketball at the end of the season, anything can happen.
“Our goal is always to make our last game of the year our best game,” Benge said. “We just want to keep getting better and keep getting better.
“I think we have a group of kids that work very hard. I think what it will come down to is if we can put points up on the board. We’ll learn to defend, we’ll learn to rebound. I don’t know we are there yet. The key will be if we can put the ball in the hoop and where’s our scoring to come from.”
The one-two punch of seniors Stephanie Mavunga and Kayle Comer provide a formidable duo that have the Brownsburg Bulldogs ranked No. 3 in Class 4A as they enter the 2012 season.
North Carolina commit Mavunga led the Bulldogs in scoring (21.6), rebounds (12.4), blocks (5.14) and steals (2.43) in 2011 and should be a top contender for Indiana Miss Basketball in 2012.
“She’s a great player and we’re looking for leadership on the court and off the court this year from her,” said Brownsburg coach Amy Brauman, whose squad went 18-3 last year. “Now that she’s committed to North Carolina it should make things easier because you don’t have to worry about the college aspect. But she’s obviously a great player and the best player to have gone through Brownsburg High School.”
Comer is no slouch either as she provides a strong perimeter threat for the Bulldogs. She averaged 8.5 points and 32 percent shooting on three pointers in 2011.
“Kayle is a great outside shooter, she’s also been a good leader during the summer,” Brauman said. “We have some players who are able to penetrate and kick it back out to her and that’s definitely where she likes to shoot it from. We are expecting her and Stephanie to really step up for us.”
Brauman also expects junior guard Hannah Mingus, who was out most of last year with a broken foot, to be a main contributor and be the only non-senior to start this season. Seniors Lindsey Low and Mackenzie Trout will round out the starting five for the Bulldogs.
Coming off the bench for Brownsburg will be freshman Aliyah Walker, sophomore Chloe Dygert and senior Margaret Oles.
Brauman expects this Bulldogs team to be one of the more athletic squads in her six seasons.
“We have some younger kids that can really get down and play some good defense whether it be full court or half court,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll look to continue to push the ball.”
A team that has seven seniors and has gone 56-14 the past three seasons are highly ranked and one of a handful of teams considered state contenders. But it’s a process and Brauman and the Bulldogs understand that.
“We just have to take it one step at a time. Having seven seniors, we have a lot of girls who have been through it before. They understand that it’s a process and that things take time to develop,” Brauman said.
The Achilles heel of this Bulldogs team has been the Ben Davis Giants who has eliminated Brownsburg in three straight sectionals. To advance outside of sectionals this season, a matchup against the Giants is likely. The two teams play in the regular season again this year, but this matchup will be measured if they meet in the postseason.
“A lot of it is a mental toughness once you get to sectionals. Ben Davis is going to be good again this year but the girls have to realize they are a good team too,” Brauman said. “Last year was heartbreaking to beat them in the regular season and not be able to contend with them in the sectional. We just have to get ready to play our best basketball at the end of the year.”
As Tri-West graduated five of its top six players from a 19-5 squad, the Bruins and coach Brad Acton are happy they return their best player.
Senior Lauren DeSutter will lead Tri-West into the 2012 girls basketball season as really the only answer on a team filled with questions.
It’s a squad that Acton feels in his 10 seasons at Tri-West is the least experienced out of the teams he has coached.
“It’s been kind of a luxury the last few years where we’ve had a lot of experience so we knew who a lot of those key players were going to be heading into the season,” he said. “This year, it’s obviously a lot different because we have a lot of kids who haven’t really proved themselves in varsity or are coming up from junior varsity.”
Having DeSutter back, one of the top players in the county and the Bruins’ quarterback on the court, is monumental for Tri-West.
“If you have anybody back, you like to have that position,” Acton said about his point guard.
DeSutter led the Bruins last season with 17 points per game while shooting 51 percent and 28 percent from beyond the arc. She also snatched a team-high 4.67 steals per game and added 3.54 rebounds and assists.
Acton said, ‘there isn’t enough room in your story’ to describe DeSutter.
“She’s your best player obviously, the most experienced player and all that being said, her work ethic is beyond approach,” Acton said. “She cuts harder than anybody, she works harder than anybody, I don’t care if you’re watching drills or whatever. And we told our kids, she’s our best player for a reason.”
Acton likened DeSutter’s meaning to the team to Peyton Manning playing in Denver, because he’s helping make the Broncos better.
“Even though a lot of kids haven’t played varsity, she’s going to make people on the floor better players just because of the fact they are playing with her,” he said.
Two returners from last season are seniors Dani Waldeck (3.9 points per game) and Cary Brown who both came off the bench in 2011.
“Those two seniors are going to have different roles where they are going to be on the floor more, have more expectations and their playing time is going to increase,” Acton said.
Senior Kari Sellers is also expected to have an increased role this season after experiencing an injury before the 2011 season.
With a lot of new players on the Bruins, Acton said it’s hard to pinpoint strengths but a JV record of 18-1 in 2011 and varsity record of 52-15 in the last three years bodes well for the player’s mindsets.
“If anything else, we are used to winning. It’s that culture of winning,” Acton said. “Those kids whether they played JV or varsity they have been groomed in a culture where they expect to win.”
Coming off a tough 3-18 season, the Danville Warriors are prepared for their young, experienced players to continue to grow.
Sophomores Morgan Bear and Allie Lake provide a youthful duo that gained major experience last season.
The 6-foot-2 Bear averaged 8.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting 48 percent from the field in 2011. In order for Danville to turn the corner, Bear will need to be the anchor for the Warriors.
“Morgan has an advantage in size that very few players have. So, she will need to own the inside by being aggressively smart and staying away from needless fouls,” Danville coach Terry Hammons said. “There's a significant difference between a good foul and a poor one.”
Hammons is also counting on Lake (7 points and 1.71 steals per game in 2011) this season after gaining some key playing time last year.
“Allie now has a better idea of what to expect at the high school level,” Hammons said. “She was in a tough role as a freshman last year being our primary ball handler. Now, she must use that experience to control the tempo, distribute the ball to the proper area, knock down the shot when the opportunity presents itself, and be a vocal leader on the court.”
Junior Chelsea Gould averaged a solid 6.2 points and 6.6 rebounds last season and Hammons has been impressed with the example she has set.
“Chelsea has done a lot of good things for us at both ends of the floor and we think she is hungry to win games,” he said. “Now we need the others to be hungry, too.”
The Warriors will feature two seniors this season in Whitney Taylor and Kaitlyn Moss.
The biggest area for growth Hammons feels is in the practice and preparation.
“Our mindset in practice each and every day,” he said. “We need to treat practice with a sense of urgency, not going through the motions. We need to be ready, focused, competitive and realize how important details are in improving as a team.”